Shhhh…. Let’s not talk about guns or gun violence

shhhOne can’t have a civil discussion about guns and gun violence. It’s the “third rail” of politics as this article discusses:

Somewhere amid these social media discussions, I typically read this line, “We’ll have to agree to disagree.” It’s the ultimate outcome of such third-rail topics. If you’re unfamiliar with that term, it’s a metaphor for issues so highly charged that they’re untouchable. It refers to the dangerous, high-voltage third rail of a railroad track.

However, the parents of slain TV news journalist Alison Parker have intentionally grabbed this third rail and claim they aren’t letting go until their last breaths. They didn’t want to grab it, they feel compelled to after their daughter’s killing last week.

“They messed with the wrong family,” Andy Parker told media, referring to NRA supporters and lawmakers who voted against passing stricter gun laws.

Kudos to the Parkers for coming out shooting, so to speak, about this hot-button issue. They could have retreated to their home, locked the doors and grieved in private.

Indeed, the public grief of victims and survivors of gun violence makes people uncomfortable. Few people want to engage in an honest discussion with you when you just happen to mention that your sister was shot and killed by her estranged husband. Good grief. Poor woman. It’s too painful. I can’t talk about this because it’s too awful. It’s too painful.

And yet, as the victims pile up year after year after year with no end in sight, there are more and more and more loved ones and friends left behind. It’s unavoidable. One can hardly escape the pain of those of us who walk about our loved ones. It’s inconvenient to hear the stories but people like Andy Parker, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, Richard Martinez, and many many others are speaking up and speaking out. They are going to be heard whether people want to listen or not.

The gun rights advocates just hate it when people affected by gun violence speak out soon after a shooting . We are told that organizations working on gun violence prevention are “dancing in the blood of the victims” if we speak out for stronger gun laws and a change to our gun culture soon after a shooting. They want us to wait. Wait until when? If we waited until the carnage stopped our voices would be silenced forever. This hypocrisy is offensive, insensitive and self serving.

The week-end after Labor Day is a high school class reunion for me. A friend is coming from Vermont and will stay with me. A few years ago her husband, also in my class, shot and killed himself. ( Vermont- a state of high gun ownership and where most gun deaths are suicide and most suicides are by firearm)

I reached out to my friend after reading her husband’s obituary in my local newspaper which didn’t mention suicide of course. But I just knew that the cause of death, not being listed as suicides tend to be,  wasn’t right. On a visit several years after his death she and I shared our stories. She is ready to be involved in some way and I believe she will make her voice heard. But her concern expressed to me in an email about arrangements for her visit was what she would say to people who knew her husband and may or may not have known about his gun suicide. My advice was to just be honest and forthright and discuss it if people wanted to. And if some of our former classmates are uncomfortable with the inconvenient truth, so be it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk. Because just perhaps we can talk about what it means to have guns in the home for self defense that end up being used to kill oneself or another intentionally.

I just love this post from Mike the Gun Guy as he talks about the latest video posted by Molly Ann Weymer that has gone viral. An innocent looking sexy woman lying on her back talks to the camera about the difference between an attack gun and a self protection gun. From the post:

And this is the point at which the video takes a brilliant turn.  Because after a few additional Ma’ams, Molly says to the storekeep, “I watch the news, and I know there are guns that attack people and guns that protect people and I would like the protection kind of gun.”  She then goes on to say that she bought a “pink one” because that was more “feminine” and here’s the kicker: “If we can just figure out how to get all the murder guns and the attack guns and not keep selling them and just sell protection guns, I think that would be great and solve a lot of problems.”

Now I’ve been following the gun debate for more than forty years, and this is the first time I have heard the two sides of that debate referred to simply in terms of what a gun can do.  Of course a gun can be used for self-defense, but the same gun can also be used to inflict great harm against someone who isn’t a risk or threat to the gun owner at all. And by verbally juxtaposing the words ‘attack’ and ‘protection’ with the idea that we are talking about different kinds of guns, what Molly Ann has done is reduce the whole argument about guns to what it really is: a dispute about what a gun represents in its most finite form. Because what protection means to the pro-gun community is what attack means to people who want to regulate guns.  And Molly Ann Wymer has expressed this better than anyone else.

Herein lies the problem of our American gun culture. We are confused (on purpose of course by the corporate gun lobby and gun extremists) into thinking a gun for self defense will never be used as an attack gun or a gun to kill a loved one or even oneself. This is a huge misperception that needs to be challenged. Good for Molly Ann Wymer for simplifying the debate. For those loved guns keep getting used against people who know and love each other either intentionally or accidentally. No one wants to talk about this. And the big secret that no one wants to admit is that the majority of gun deaths are due to suicide.

One of my favorite sources for research and information is The Trace. In one of the latest posts, the point about the gun deaths that take place privately in homes due to domestic shootings or suicides is highlighted. From the article titled “Just Another Bloody Summer”:

The total numbers, the numbers that matter, are these. Between the start of Memorial Day Weekend and August 28 (the date when the most recent statistics were pulled), an estimated 3,702 people were killed by guns in America. Another 8,153 were wounded. That’s according to preliminary data from the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks incidents of gun violence through media reports and police blotters. And it amounts to 81 more shooting deaths and 959 more gun injuries than during the same period in 2014.

Statistically, then, this summer’s increase in firearms casualties has not been huge. What has seemed potentially significant is the effect on perceptions. David Chipman, a former ATF agent, believes that “people have been blown out of their detachment and denial.” If there is a lasting shift (and time will certainly test his assertion), it will owe in part to the way the summer of 2015 mixed together horrors too-familiar and new: Innocent churchgoers standing in for innocent school kids, a Tennessee Naval Reserve facility instead of a Texas army base, a movie theater shooting sequel, a workplace rampage that in a depraved twist was documented with not one but two cameras. Americans may have come to expect an Aurora or Newtown or Fort Hood on a semi-annual basis, but there yet remain varieties of brutality for which we aren’t prepared, have not already pre-processed.

Has anyone not been affected by the carnage inflicted on innocent church members, military members, journalists and movie goers in the shootings that have been the source of much talk and consternation? I doubt it.

The article goes on to talk about the mass shootings, the “not so mass” shootings and the numbers -which are staggering. And then, of course, there are the shootings by and of police officers which cannot be avoided even if inconvenient to discuss. From the article:

While theories falter, there are numbers, again, to be reckoned with: TheGuardian has counted 298 people, 61 of them black — seven of them black and unarmed — shot by police this summer. On the other side of the thin blue line, twelve police officers were killed in June, July, and August, eight of them in one ten-day stretch. One of them, Darren Goforth, a deputy sheriff ambushedwhile pumping gas in Harris County, Texas, was approached from behind by a man who emptied 15 rounds into his head. Firmin DeBrabander, a Baltimore resident and author, looked at the first set of numbers and the second set of numbers and saw a place where the interests of the Black Lives Matter movement and law enforcement overlap. “Neither can advance their stated missions — saving lives, affirming the value of all lives — amid a profusion of guns, which so easily waste lives,” he wrote in the Washington Post.

Indeed. It is the profusion of guns. This is unavoidable and inconvenient. But it just can’t be kept quiet. Yes, police officers have shot armed and unarmed people alike- many people of color, some not. Fear for their own lives or some sort of racial prejudice or questionable decision-making and/or police practices have led to far too many shootings. On the other hand, with so many armed citizens on our streets, officers can’t be blamed for fearing for their own lives. It’s the guns in both cases. Officers in other countries don’t carry as many guns because they don’t encounter armed citizens on their streets or in homes.

And more from the article:

The Conley story was unusual in that it generated national coverage; shootings that take place within four walls can seem too quotidian to attract much attention. This does not make them any less brutal. In one week in August, a mother of three was fatally shot by her boyfriend in Covington, Tennessee; a man murdered his brother in Toledo, Ohio; and a firefighter wasshot at home by a woman in Jackson County, Mississippi. “It’s a domestic,” the local sheriff said. “He’s been shot and he’s dead.” A shooter, a body, another family tragedy. The numbers from the Gun Violence Archive tell that there have been hundreds of domestic victims this summer. (Even when we do pay attention to gun deaths that take place at home, we still often overlook a still bigger category, the gun violence no one talks about: the thousands of gun suicides that occur every summer, part of the upwards of 21,000 suicides-by-firearm recorded each year.)

A majority of Americans now believe that a home with a gun in it is a safer home, as the pollsters at Gallup tell us. When a gun kept for self-defense is a gun kept at the ready, loaded and unobstructed by locks or passcodes, it becomes a gun that can find itself into a child’s hands. Here is Fred Grimm, a popular columnist for the Miami Herald, assessing the damage done this summer in his state alone, when “Florida kids discovered their parents’ firearms and the statistical probabilities trumped all that home safety propaganda pushed by the gun lobby.” An 11-year-old boy finds his mother’s semi-automatic pistol and shoots his 9-year-old brother in the face. A three-year-old, likely searching for an iPad, instead discovers his parents’ loaded Glock 9mm and shoots himself in the head.

Shhhh. Let’s not talk about this. Let’s avoid the discussion. Let’s not listen to the voices of Andy Parker and the other victims who are speaking out and will not be silenced. Plug your ears. Cover your eyes. Maybe it will go away. And then again, maybe not.

I mean when incidents like this are reported on a daily basis in local media outlets, how can we avoid the idea that guns are dangerous and people with guns are also dangerous. From the linked article:

A 23-year-old Phoenix man is in critical condition after shooting himself in the head while trying to show that a handgun could not be fired while he had the safety mechanism engaged.

The Navajo County Sheriff’s Office said Christen Reece fired his handgun Wednesday while shooting with six other people outside Overgaard in eastern Arizona.

Good grief. The sub header of the article says not to point a gun at yourself or others. Good advice but it just isn’t working. This just doesn’t happen with knives or hammers. Sorry. It’s an inconvenient truth but it doesn’t.

The answer is common sense and so much more. We are reaching a point of no return. If we don’t change things soon, almost everyone in America will know someone who has been affected by senseless gun violence. Things just have to change and people like me and those who are writing such great articles and doing the research that must be done are exposing the inconvenience that gun violence is a serious problem. We can’t not talk about it. It’s past time to have the conversation and insist on solutions.

11 thoughts on “Shhhh…. Let’s not talk about guns or gun violence

  1. J. Edwards says:

    I have to disagree with your assumption that police shoot suspects out of racial prejudice or poor training. The majority of shootings by police are necessary, (Michael Brown comes to mind) when the suspect is about to bring death or great bodily harm upon the officer or another innocent. Whether or not that deadly threat is in the form of an edged weapon, a club or making attempts for the officer’s weapon is immaterial in reality and law and to say that we should wait to be bludgeoned, stabbed or shot before the decision is made to end the violent attack is also not grounded in reality or law.

    Speaking as a sworn officer for a decent part of my life: Yes, we understand that “the voices” may have told him to attack you (or us), and it “may not be his fault.” However, it’s not your fault (or ours) either, and cop or “civilian,” your right to protect yourself against his assault and meet force with force does not change. Neither an artificially altered state of consciousness nor an official diagnosis of insanity makes your attacker – or mine – a protected species.

    Yes, it would be nice if we could bring in an intensively trained Crisis Intervention Team to talk your attacker down and get him in touch with his inner child, or perhaps, his inner juvenile delinquent. Time is the essence in any sort of negotiation, including verbal crisis intervention. “Detached reflection” is a key ingredient. Unfortunately, that ingredient is missing from the recipe of reality in the cases that have brought about this discussion. It has been almost a hundred years since Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “Detached reflection is not demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.” (SCOTUS, Brown v. United States, 1921.) It remains the law, and the truth, today.
    The police are actually pretty well trained in bloodshed-reducing crisis intervention already, but neither you nor I can fit a whole lot of detached reflection into a second or two when the soon-to-be “unarmed victim” is trying to stab you with his knife, or kill you with your own gun.
    Unfortunately, in a time when screwing with cops in front of your iPhone so you can upload your douchebaggery instantly to YouTube is seen as something about to become a national sport, nobody has trained the public how to react to law enforcement. Police/citizen contacts ARE a two way street, after all.

  2. Guy says:

    I believe in activism by those affected by traged, it makes for strong results when paired with contextual legislation and relevant data. When changes are advocated for the sake of simply “doing something”, it garners fringe support and no small degree of detractors. Example: the kerfluffle over the Confederate flag after Charleston shooting. Was that really a catalyst to the event, and one that needed addressing? No one can disagree that the flag was being flown where it shouldn’t have been for taste, but was this really the event to use to remove it?
    Same with proposed gun control measures, they are more likely to garner support when paired with related events. See the NRA supported legislation after Virginia Tech to solidify mental health checks. But when a victim or their family stands up and says they are going to “do something” even if that something has no relevance to the tragedy at hand, it feels less like advocacy and more like a paroxysm of grief. Legislation (or executive orders) should not be built on any paroxysms.

    1. Do you know anything about the “paroxysm” of grief? I don’t know what you are talking about. But I will tell you that people like me just want the shootings to stop and for other families to not have to experience the suddenness and violence of a loved one shot with a firearm. We will do whatever it takes to do something about gun violence no matter if what we push for would have changed the outcome with our loved one. We are calling attention to the overall epidemic of gun violence in America which is indisputable. The result of that may be stronger gun laws. It may be that someone keeps a gun away from a family member or friend who is suicidal or a domestic abuser. That is what this is all about. We don’t need those of you who have not experienced this kind of public grief to lecture us about what we are doing. If it makes you uncomfortable, that is too bad. If you read my article, you know I am saying that gun violence is and can be relevant to all of us at some time in our lives. A lot of legislation in this country is “built” on some tragedy. Take changes in drunk driving laws as just one example. Take laws about children’s cribs or toys or swimming pools. Take laws that prevent smoking inside of public places. Just because it has to do with guns you don’t like it.

      1. Guy says:

        “Just because it has to do with guns you don’t like it.” Untrue, read the first sentence of my original comment. It’s meant to be all inclusive.

        I agree with the attempts to fix the background check system following Virginia Tech. I believe that further fixes may be in order if events like Charleston can happen through the NICS errors. I believe in the adoption of safety features like drop safeties and titanium firing pins to decrease accidental discharges. I believe in laws regarding smoking, actions while impaired, and criminal negligence.

        What I don’t believe in is proposing laws in the name of events when those laws have no relevance to said events. Lobbyists and some family members pushing for universal background checks in the name of Sandy Hook when those checks had no bearing on the event. Calls for political language reform after Senator Giffords was shot by a man who cared little for politics. Repeated attempts to reinstate the 1994 assault weapons ban (usually after a high-profile shooting) even after the Department of Justice stated that the ban had little to no effect on crime/violence. All these may be meant as well intentioned, but they come across as a political answer desperately searching for a context.

      2. This is an excuse for us not to ever talk about stronger gun laws. It doesn’t matter whether a specific type of gun or law had to do with a specific shooting. There are so many shootings that passing any law would affect change in the number of victims. We care a lot about other people and families. The Sandy Hook parents and those who spoke out after that shooting knew full well that a stronger background check system would not have prevented the shooting of their children. But they openly said that they were working so other families would not be affected by gun violence. Better background checks will save lives. The AWB was allowed to sunset just about the time we were starting to see the affect of the ban. And now that it is over, we are seeing more shootings with assault type weapons and high capacity magazines. These types of guns do not account for a great number of shootings. What difference does that make? When they are used, they often account for a lot of people killed at once. We understand that handguns account for most of the deaths. We also understand there is little useful purpose for these kinds of guns designed originally for the military and turned into “modern sporting guns” by the gun manufacturers. They have little hunting use. What else does anyone NEED one for? For the fun? For target shooting? Fine. Then at least make sure there are background checks required on all sales to at least prevent someone who shouldn’t have one from getting one. And make sure trafficking laws are strong and straw purchasing laws are good enough to stop gun dealers from selling one to someone who shouldn’t have one.

        Are we going to start adding how many are killed with what type of gun and then only pass laws based on the number of victims? That would be absurd. Your argument won’t stop victims from asking for stronger laws that can prevent shootings. We are a group of people who are together for a reason. There are too many gun deaths in this country- period. Not doing anything or only passing laws around the fringes when the gun lobby decides it might be OK is not OK.

  3. There are clearly instances when police officers have used deadly force inappropriately – we’ve seen a number of them recently, though I wouldn’t put Michael Brown’s shooting among them. I’m not sure what happened in Ferguson. In fact, based on the evidence, I’d give officer Wilson a pass without a second thought.

    But I know of other police shootings that were clearly inappropriate AND I”D ARGUE THAT CONCLUSION WITH ANYONE, NO MATTER HOW MUCH L.E. EXPERIENCE THEY HAVE.

    That said, police have had to ramp up; in effect, strengthen tactics and go to more advanced weapons in response to the ever-increasing threats they, and the public they have to protect, face. A big measure of that ever-increased threat comes from two sources – drugs and guns.

    Police in other countries don’t seem to pile up the dead assailants like we do here. What are we doing wrong?

  4. Guy says:

    (Couldn’t respond to the original thread, must be a wordpress issue) I’m beginning to see that you mean regardless of the situation, if a tragedy involves guns then the solution is UBC/AWB/psych profile /more training/fewer-guns-by-whatever-means-necessary. If that’s the case, then it helps me to better understand where your blog is coming from.

    As for AR-style rifles, we just have to “agree to disagree”. Googling “hunting with AR-pattern rifles”yielded me a new perspective on how invaluable these guns are becoming to a new generation of hunters. The variety of calibers alone make hunting game coast to coast as simple as purchasing a new upper portion with matching magazines. Interesting reading regardless of your political leanings.

    1. The solution is whatever it takes and works. Yes- more training- not less. I’ve not said fewer guns but fewer guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Responsible gun ownership and gun owners to prevent “accidental” shootings. Safe storage to keep kids and suicidal young people or family members from gaining access easily. My family are hunters. I know what kind of guns are used for hunting. No one I know uses an AR-15 for hunting. They are not needed for hunting. People got along without them for decades. I suppose my political leanings are not a secret though you must know that Republicans, Democrats, gun owners, non gun owners and NRA members want background checks on all gun sales- 74% of NRA members and 91% of Americans in general, including gun owners. The majority also don’t believe we need assault type rifles.

  5. You folks are truly making headway here. I sincerely feel that you are. It can be tough going when people are on different sides of a hot-button issue – that’s obvious. But, from your past few comments, I’d say your moving in the right direction.

  6. A very good point has been brought up here – how mass shootings are to some extent different in nature from the far more numerous, day-to-day shootings. Thus the key laws that many of us want to pass, like universal background checks, don’t fit neatly with these high-profile, mass shootings. So to pitch background checks off the media attention given to a mass shooting isn’t a straight line and therefore a harder sell than it deserves to be. And getting the country galvanized around the day-to-day shootings, so as to pass a strengthened background check law, is really tough.

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